Tuesday, December 19, 2006

British thinktank: Iraq war "terrible mistake"

The Guardian reports on the findings of a "leading think tank" in Britain that the decision by Tony Blair to assist the United States in the Iraq war was a "terrible mistake" that would shape Blair's legacy in a negative light for years to come.

The conclusion is self evident, but the road the think tank uses to arrive at that destination is obscure and needlessly scenic in my opinion:
A Chatham House paper on 10 years of foreign policy under Mr Blair concluded that its root failure was an inability to influence George Bush.


As so often with British prime ministers, Mr Blair thought unwavering public support for the US would bring private influence and lead to changes in US policy favouring British interests, but this had not happened.

Mr Bulmer-Thomas said there had been an "inability to influence the Bush administration in any significant way, despite the sacrifice - military, political and financial - that the United Kingdom has made".

Given the Byzantine complexity of Washington politics, it was always unrealistic to think that outside powers - however loyal - could expect to have much influence on the US decision-making process, he said.

"The bilateral relationship with the United States may be 'special' to Britain, but the US has never described it as more than 'close' ... Tony Blair has learnt the hard way that loyalty in international politics counts for very little," the report said.
So according to Chatham House, if only the Blair administration had been able to influence the Bush administration, then the Iraq war may have been considered somewhat of a success. The "root" failure is the lack of influence by Blair on Bush.

I would turn that conclusion on it's head and posit that the root of Blair's legacy troubles is the undue influence that the Bush administration exerted on him. The report (PDF file) asserts that English officials determined in mid 2002 that Bush was determined to go to war with Iraq. The decision at that time to ally with Bush, to extend diplomatic cover, and attempt to enroll allies in the effort is the defining moment of Blair's administration according to the report. The triangulation used by Blair (to influence Bush by being influenced to go along) to arrive at the conclusion that he should support the invasion is not the root of the failure. The root of the failure was Blair not resisting the undue influence to support an illegal, preemptive, unnecessary war. If Blair had stood up to this drive to war at the time, he may not have been able to forestall the invasion of Iraq by America, but he could have kept his nation clear of the looming disaster, joined and strengthened a phalanx of world opinion opposed to the war, and retained the support of his people to a far greater extent.

It is a slap in the face of our British allies that the water they carried for us (by the truckload) was not reciprocated with the consideration of important issues from their perspective by this administration. If the entire objective of an ally of America is to have influence with this administration, no matter the cost in blood, treasure or prestige, then the policies of Blair are an unqualified failure. And Blair has done more than most in supporting the Bush administration, even after the incompetence, arrogance and blind faith in idealism led to disaster. Despite all this however, this administration insists on poo pooing Blair, especially in respects to global warming.

What should Blair have expected in this regard? He more than most ought to have understood the bull headed arrogance of Bush. Blair reasoned that Bush would be reasonable in the face of evidence that Bush is not reasonable. In Blair's estimation, if England backed Bush on his major initiative, England would get some crumbs from Bush in return. Bush doesn't play that game. He takes what you give, but will not give anything up in return. Diplomacy is a meaningless word for this administration, and Blair is learning that lesson at the expense of British blood, treasure, and his own legacy.

Blair can thank his willingness to buckle under to this administration for his troubles. The reasons he buckled may be this or that, but it is the undue influence he allowed Bush to have that led him to his current state of being.

As to the effect on Blair's legacy if Bush were reasonable, I wonder how much good would have come from an empowered Blair considering the disaster that Iraq has become. Let there be no mistake from my perspective... with the notable exception for his Iraq policy, I think Blair is spot on with most issues of concern on the global stage. But as far as the English are concerned, it is Blair who led them into this. not Bush. Blair's successes would need to be monumental in order to not have Iraq overshadow the verdict of history on his legacy.

Frankly if Blair had managed to be the founding father of a worldwide political movement that reversed man kinds effect on global warming, he may well have overcome the Iraq blunder in histories eyes. Indeed if Blair had managed to set the stage for a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian issue which underlies nearly all of the troubles of that region. he may have overcome the Iraq mistake as well. The fact remains that he relied upon the reasonableness of an unreasoning President, hitched his legacies and nations wagons to the Iraq war with no promise in return, and got burned. The failure of the Iraq adventure, when considered in light of how this war affects the west in the so called war on terror, is a blunder that will go down in American history as the greatest strategic mistake of all time. If that is the case for America, the effect on our allies may not be so dramatic, but those effects must be bad none the less. It would have taken an absolutely brilliant piece of world stage craft for any Blair initiative following to make up for that type of error.

To wrap this up, let me point to the implicit support the Chatham House findings give us lefty types who have screamed from the rooftops about the downing street memo. Chatham House concludes that Blair knew nearly a year prior to the invasion that Bush was determined to invade Iraq. This hardly comports with the statements at the time that invasion would only be a last resort, and so on and on. The conclusion fits like a glove with the memo saying that intelligence was being fixed to support the drive to war. It is hard to imagine how the President intended to carry out his predetermined war by playing honest broker with information that may have mitigated the accusations that were being leveled to justify the war. The intelligence was fixed, the war was a needless mistake, and the end result has been disastrous. It is late in the game, and the consequences of this policy will be with us after you and I are long dead, but the lesson must be passed to future generations. Acting as the President did to lead us to this war is unacceptable. We must impeach the President in order to give this lesson. In matters of conduct leading this nation to war, there can be no greater burden of responsibility, and acting like a criminal to take us to war can not be tolerated.

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